According to the American Psychological Association (APA), OCD is “a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions). To get rid of the thoughts, they feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” As someone who was diagnosed with OCD many years ago, I have experienced the myriad of ways that OCD can impact someone’s daily life. From counting the number of steps it took me to get from the stairs to my bedroom to making sure to eat a piece of toast in exactly six bites, to eventually worrying incessantly about the way different parts of my body looked, OCD became the soil from which all my thoughts grew.

OCD: Understanding the Compulsions

Scanning and checking compulsions are common features of OCD, characterized by the need to repeatedly examine or scrutinize aspects of your surroundings or appearance. Compulsions can manifest in various ways, but in the context of body image anxiety, it often revolves around an obsessive focus on perceived flaws or imperfections in one’s physical appearance. If you have this particular form of OCD, you may spend excessive amounts of time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, frequently taking photos of your body, or seeking reassurance from others about your appearance. When these habits only manifest themselves as fixations on the body, one may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a disorder closely related and sometimes confused with OCD.

Learn more about the difference between OCD and BDD directly from Dr. Colleen Reichmann in the video below:

The Link Between OCD and Body Image Issues

Why are OCD and body image issues so closely linked to one another? It’s a valid question, given that body image-related fears are commonly seen in those who meet the criteria for an OCD diagnosis. While there are several reasons for this link, and the reasons can vary from person to person, the following are among some of the common reasons there is such a strong link between OCD and body image issues:

1. Focus on Perceived Imperfections

One of the core characteristics of OCD is the tendency to magnify perceived flaws. Engaging in scanning and checking compulsions can lead to an exaggerated perception of physical imperfections, making people feel more self-conscious and, thus, more anxious about how they look and how their perceived flaws are perceived by others.

2. The Perpetual Cycle

OCD operates in a loop, with obsessions leading to compulsions that temporarily relieve anxiety but ultimately intensify the obsession. In the context of body image, this means that the more someone checks and scans their appearance, the more they may feel compelled to do so. This cycle can lead to heightened body image anxiety and can perpetuate body image issues.

3. Social Isolation

Those with OCD may sometimes withdraw from social activities due to the time and energy consumed by some of the compulsions. This isolation can compound body image issues, as this time allows someone to sit with their thoughts, and then people may miss out on opportunities for positive social interactions and feedback.

OCD and Body Image: Ways to Address Scanning and Checking Compulsions in OCD-Related Body Image Anxiety

1. Identify and Understand Your Triggers

Recognizing what triggers your scanning and checking compulsions is a crucial step in effectively addressing them. Keeping a journal to track these triggers can help you identify patterns and work on strategies to minimize their influence in your daily life. Tracking your triggers can also be a helpful tool for if and when you work with a mental health professional to aid in your healing journey.

2. Surround Yourself with a Support Network

Having a supportive network can alleviate feelings of isolation and enhance your overall well-being, especially when struggling with OCD and boy image issues. Staying connected to people with whom you already have a relationship founded on trust and transparency can provide you with the support and comfort you may need on particularly challenging days.

3. Seek Professional Help

If you are struggling with body image issues as a result of OCD, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who specializes in OCD and body image issues. They can provide you with evidence-based treatments and care to manage your obsessions and compulsions effectively.  This was a critical part of my own healing journey.

4. Gradual Exposure

Exposure therapy can be helpful in addressing body image anxiety. This involves gradually exposing yourself to situations that trigger your compulsions while resisting the urge to engage in them. This is best done by the guidance of a professional, but this has helped me immensely over time. While it’s challenging – especially at first – this can help make the triggers less intimidating, and can help you regain “power” over response to these triggers. 

5. Consider Medication

This is not to say everyone with OCD needs to be or should be on medication, but it can be helpful to keep this in mind as a potential part of a treatment plan. If it is something you are curious about, talk to your doctor about your options, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of medication for your individual situation. 

Finding Freedom from OCD and Body Image Struggles

OCD can significantly exacerbate body image anxiety when some of the scanning and checking compulsions are focused on the body and appearance. This can leave you feeling like a slave to the obsessions and compulsions that plague your mind. I want you to know that there is hope, though, and that with the right tools, the body image issues you have that are perpetuated by the scanning and checking compulsions can become less “noisy” and  less restrictive. You can gain control over your OCD and body image issues, ultimately leading to a greater sense of peace and contentment with your mind and body.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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